“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Monday, November 23, 2009

January's Sparrow • Nonfiction picture book

January's Sparrow
written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Just out! Philomel, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group Nonfiction picture book Ages 8 and up
A tour de force of such emotional and dramatic impact that young readers will be forever changed in their understanding of the forces that led to the Civil War and the humanity and courage of the days before it.
Story:  In the middle of the dark night, the Crosswhites -- including young Sadie -- flee the Kentucky plantation they slave on, leaving everything they own behind, including the wooden sparrow January carved for Sadie.  Dear January  has been beaten and probably killed by the plantation master.  They fear they may be next.

Across the Ohio River and traveling the Underground Railroad, they make the slow and arduous journey north to Marshall, MI, where finally they are free!  Or are they? 

How the Crosswhite family and the whole town of Marshall face slave catchers in their midnight attack and stand up heroically for what is right is brought to life in art and words by the great storyteller Patricia Polacco.

Story behind the story:  Patricia Polacco is known for looking to real life for inspiration for her books -- and here she looked no further than her own backyard; she lives only twelve miles from Marshall, MI, where the Crosswhite saga took place.  Her very own home was once an inn and a safe haven along the Underground Railroad. Patricia Polacco is known throughout the country for her books that ask children to think of themselves as heroes, and to be courageous in life, as well as her motivating speeches.

Related topics include history, understanding differences, cause and effect, decision making, family relationships.

And be sure to see the curriculum guide -- featuring curriculum connections, discussion questions and classroom activities -- for January's Sparrow and all of Patricia Polacco's book at her publisher's website.


"Polacco at her best...undeniably vivid." -- The Horn Book

"Rooted in history, this is a masterly narrative that horrifies, moves and informs." -- Kirkus Reviews

"[T]his moving account effectively highlights a significant instance of nonviolent community resistance to injustice." -- School Library Journal

FYI:  all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back and click on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chaucer’s First Winter • Picture book

Chaucer’s First Winter
by Stephen Krensky illustrated by Henry Cole
Just out! Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Picture book Ages 2 – 6
Chaucer knows that bears are supposed to sleep through the winter. But it's much more fun to stay up and play.
Story:  Celebrate the joys of the season and friendship as Chaucer experiences his first snowball fights, sledding, skating, and all of the most exciting parts of winter.  The winter setting provides a natural lead into discussions about the seasons and hibernation, but can be used year-round in units and displays on bears and animals, relationships and families.
Story behind the story:  Stephen Krensky is the author of more than eighty books for children, including How Santa Got His Job (an ALA Notable Book) and Big Bad Wolves at School. He and his wife, Joan, live in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Henry Cole is an award-winning illustrator whose quirky, sensitive illustrations have graced more than two dozen picture books, including Jack's Garden, which he also wrote; And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein; and Moosetache and Bad Boys, both by Margie Palatini. He lives in Washington, DC.

Cole provides wonderful insight and behind-the-scene examples of his artistic process via his detail-, process- and version-ometers which show how he works to find just the right character, how he fine-tunes that character, and how small details can make a big difference in picture books.  

FYI:  all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back and click on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Here's what I'm thinking about this first November Wednesday:

THE GREAT ALA KID/YA LIT TWEET-UP:  Coming to Boston for the American Library Association's Midwinter conference? If you're a tweeting librarian (or author, illustrator, publisher, agent, editor, reviewer, blogger, bookseller -- anyone interested in children's and YA lit), join us:

Saturday, January 16, 2010
4-6 pm
at the Birch Bar in the Westin Waterfront hotel
(connected to the convention center)!

Talk social media, chat about books, share program ideas, meet fellow Picnic Basket reviewers and the people you've been re-tweeting, listing, and following, see old friends.

We'll have a BOOK SWAP too so the great Kid/YA Lit book community can continue interacting after our tweet-up's over.  Mingle with children's lit authors, librarians, magazine editors, agents, bloggers, publishers.  And I'd love to see you there, too.  Say yes.  Check out who's in for the fun (just think, you can meet Mitali Perkins, author of SECRET KEEPER which so many of you enjoyed) and register (free) here.

BOOKS FOR TEEN BOOK GROUPS AND BOOK CLUBSThe November 1st issue of Kidsbookclubbing features book giveaways for your teen book groups as well as the inside story from these authors:

- Award-winning author Gayle Forman who writes about how everything changes in a single moment for her seventeen-year-old character in If I Stay.
- New York Times bestselling author Jay Asher, who worked as a bookseller and a librarian, before writing his debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why.

- Laurie Halse Anderson, winner of the 2009 Edwards Award for significant and lasting contribution to young adult readers, as she talks honestly and speaks up loudly about her novel Wintergirls, and
- Amy Efaw, graduate of West Point Military Academy and mother of five, whose spent hours observing juvenile offenders while researching her book After.

Read more of their stories and find out about inviting them to your book group -- in person or by phone or Skype -- here.

RECENT PICNIC BASKET BOOKS GETTING LOTS OF COMMENTS: Did you take a peek at what's being said about THE SECRET SCIENCE ALLIANCE, WHO WANTS TO BE A POODLE? I DON'T, and HOW DO YOU WOKKA-WOKKA?. Even though the review copies have been sent, the comments from teachers and librarians who've read these are worth a look.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles • Picture book

Spot the Plot:  A Riddle Book of Book Riddles
by J. Patrick Lewis • illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
July 2009  Chronicle Books • Ages 4-8
Story:  The book's jacket flaps tell it all:
Quickie tricky
book reviews
are intended
to amuse
readers who enjoy a little quiz.

So put on
your riddle cap --
don't fall in
a riddle trap.
You could be a
little riddle whiz.

Witty and wacky poems pose riddles that challenge readers to "Name That Book." With a glass slipper here and a spiderweb there, these thirteen fun-filled poems lead young readers to the solutions. From Goodnight Moon to Madeline, children and parents alike will delight in recognizing their most cherished stories.  A great read-aloud -- kids (and adults too) can't help but call out their answers!
Story behind the story: While reading about SPOT THE PLOT, I came across a terrific piece from Sylvia Vardell on her Poetry for Children blog (a wonderful resource for all things children's poetry).  She spoke with author J. Patrick Lewis "about his choices of poem forms and he shared this nugget:"

"Prior to SPOT THE PLOT, I'd written four books of riddles on various themes. I love the form, the challenge of coming up with the obliquely perfect definition—telling the truth, but telling it slant. Riddles are inherently interactive, so they make great read-alouds at school visits. In SPOT THE PLOT, I was trying most often to tell the book riddle in as few words as possible, as in, “Her hair’s/The stairs.” Or, a new one, “This trail becomes/A trail of crumbs.” The fewer words, the better, that is, the cleverer, to my way of thinking. Just as often, though, I had to rely on a tercet or a quatrain to tell the tale, but with a hint of confusion, as in “Pre-teen plays/a starring role/as she surveys/ a rabbit hole.” But, you see, perhaps that “rabbit hole” gives too much away. Writing riddles, especially for children, which means making them all equally but not too perplexing, is damnably difficult.”

J. Patrick Lewis has written more than 60 books for children; his poetry and nonsense verse have appeared in dozens of magazines and more than 70 anthologies.  He knows poetry and what works with kids.

Lynn Munsinger is a popular illustrator of dozens of children's books, including the beloved TACKY THE PENGUIN books by Helen Lester.  

FYI:  all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back and click on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say. (that was fast!)